Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Toilet Learning

Over the last month I have come to realize how much time we are spending in the bathroom these days. Many of the children in Cohort 10 and 12 are in underwear, and it just makes me think so much about the process of toilet learning (or Potty Training). When does it start? When is the process complete? What skills are they learning that they use outside of the bathroom?
I took an online training course once specifically for Potty Training and in this course, they referred to the process as Toilet Learning. It really stuck with me and made me think that us helping children figure out how to control their bladder, bowels and about the toilet was a lot of work for them and not so much for us. They need to take their own time and go at their own pace to not only figure out the toilet (what it is, what we use it for, and why flush, besides it being fun) but recognize signals their bodies give them when they need to go. We’re not “training” them for toilet use but supporting their natural learning process.

With that being said, when does Toilet Learning start? At Tumbleweed we are constantly talking to them in the bathroom about their bodies, about what we notice in their diapers (Whether it be wet, dry or a BM), with infants we are commenting when we notice them looking at the toilet or touching it, identifying what it is. We also talk to the infants a little about what some of the older children are doing on the toilet and in the bathroom while they lay on the floor for their change. While it may not seem like this is part of Toilet Learning it is a foundation for future conversations. As infants progress to being wobblers there is a shift in gears… Diaper changes happen while the children are standing, and they have access to the toilet if they want to sit or just take a peak. Also as wobblers we encourage each child to work with us on their clothing (assisting us in pulling down their pants for a diaper change). All of this process is child led, as their carers we are just answering questions (even the unasked questions of infants) and offering opportunity for them to explore the bathroom. Now that Cohort 10 and 12 are toddlers so much has changed from the wobbler stage in the bathroom.

Every child is:

Taking off his/ her own clothes
Removing their own diapers/ underwear
Most are sitting on the toilet every bathroom break regardless if pee or poop come
Wiping their bodies with toilet paper
Putting their clothes back on
Washing their hands
We have a consistent bathroom routine and set times throughout the day that we go in to use the toilet which they have all become accustomed to. At this stage they have made my role more of a presence, as I am just available for support or any needed assistance.

As they continue with the Toilet Learning process I wonder when is it considered complete? When are they beyond the Potty Training phase? Is it when they are no longer in diapers through nap or overnight? When they are telling us when they need to use the toilet? I feel like it is so hard to pinpoint and honestly why would you want to? I think every child is different, accidents happen… That is why they are called accidents after all. I also feel like their bodies are constantly changing and that there is always more to learn. For example, a few weeks ago one of the children was pushing on the tank lid… This of course made me nervous and I jumped in to stop it from falling. I talked with everyone in the bathroom about how the lid is heavy, and if it fell it could hurt someone or break AND then I asked if they wanted to see inside the tank because we could look if they were feeling curious. It was a pretty amazing thing to look at, we talked about all the parts and how everything was attached and even got to see what happened when we flushed it.

While a lot of our time in the bathroom surrounds the toilet they are doing so much more then just going pee or poop. They are working on dressing and undressing themselves, taking care of their bodies and practicing good hygiene, and making decisions on their own. There are many times I notice children’s skills from the bathroom carrying over to other parts of our day… When we are getting gear on to go outside they need minimal assistance as they have lots of practice dressing in the bathroom. When there is juice on their hands from oranges or dirt from outside they notice on their own and declare they need to wash their hands. When they feel mucus running out of their nose they know just where the clothes are to wipe it. There is just so much body autonomy that grew from the foundation of communication we started during their first diaper changes at Tumbleweed!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Setting Limits with Confidence

What are limits? 
When talking about setting limits for young children, it's good to know what limits are to begin with. In short, they are rules we set that help us establish appropriate boundaries for children depending on their age, developmental level and other factors. Limits are important, helping a child feel safe and secure in their environment and their relationships with the caregivers in their life.

Types of Limits
Always (Red light) Limits - Always true, regarding safety
Sometimes (Yellow light) Limits - Situational, more flexible, time-based
Rare (Green light) Limits - special occasion, rarely happen, based on own energy-level
Why is setting age-appropriate limits important?
Boundaries are comforting and help a child know what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. It also helps a child feel free when they know what is expected of them, since it relieves them from the burden of making choices that they might not be ready for. Toddlers want us to be in charge even when it doesn't seem like it. When toddlers are given too much freedom without consistent boundaries, it can lead to future destructive behaviors such as inflicting damage on themselves or others as an unconscious call for more boundaries. 

Why do toddlers push or test limits?
Children are emotional and are learning impulse control so they need to be given boundaries that will keep them safe and effective discipline that teaches them to have respect for themselves, others and their surroundings. They are learning to assert their will and personality. Testing is a positive sign of the trust children have developed in us to listen to them and do things with them, instead of for them or to them. Some of the most common reasons children push limits is because their needs aren’t being met. They could be overly tired, hungry, stressed out or be over or under stimulated. Children also push limits when they are trying to understand or clarify something related to them, like our expectations for them. Sometimes an expectation we set might be clear to us, but confusing to the child. It is important to set simple expectations that are easy for a child to understand and don't require much explanation. Another reason why toddlers push limits is to get our attention, especially if they feel ignored. As teachers, showing a genuine interest in each child, and demonstrating patience and respect with each interaction is vital for children to feel that they are loved and important people. 

So, how do we react to limit pushing behaviors?

First, before we react, we need to step back and think. It's so easy to react out of an emotion but our knowledge of the child's development should be in the forefront of our minds before we say or do anything.

Identify our expectations.  
Are they age appropriate? Are we perceiving a child’s normal behavior as a problem? If so, how do we set realistic expectations? It's a good sign if a child expresses demands and desires because it shows that he or she is secure. Insecure children are afraid to demand. All emotions are normal and should be accepted, even the most uncomfortable ones like anger, sadness, confusion or disappointment. Maintain a neutral, even, “all feelings allowed” attitude. If we accept their feelings, they will too. Children look up to us for everything and notice everything we do. There's almost nothing we can hide, including our feelings. If we get easily frustrated at a child's emotions then we lose stability as their leader and romodel.

Re-Frame our Perspective.  
If we re-frame our outlook and change our perspective, we can see a child's age-appropriate behavior, as normal, instead of problematic.

Helpful words to tell ourselves: 
This isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity.
This is just what is happening right now. It’s part of the process of growth and learning.
Lets find a way to do this together.

Children look to us to be a confident leader. That means not wavering back and forth between what we allow and what we don't. We need to set consistent limits. Ambivalence can be detected easily by children and they will test the limits we set repeatedly if we sound like we are unsure of them. Keep it simple and don’t obsess over a child’s behavior by making it bigger than it needs to be. Children learn best through natural consequences and short explanations.

Setting Appropriate Limits

Here are a few guidelines to help you along the path with setting limits with confidence!
  • Stay calm and don’t show strong emotions. That can draw attention to something minor and make it bigger than it needs to be
  • Directly and concisely address the behavior we see as problematic
  • When a limit needs to be set respond immediately or it’s too late. Toddlers live in the moment.
  • Acknowledge the child’s wants and feelings first. When a child feels understood he or she senses empathy behind our limits and corrections.
  • Only say what is true. Don’t just assume you know what the child wants or needs. Sometimes it's better to wait and see rather than react prematurely and not get the full picture of what is going on


Janet Lansbury's article "The Real Reasons Toddlers Push Limits" posted Oct. 23rd, 2013 on www.janetlansbury.com

Book "No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame"- Janet Lansbury, Chap. 1: The key to healthy and effective discipline is our attitude; Chap. 2: Talking to Toddlers; Chap. 5: A Toddler's need for boundaries

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Mastery of Skills

Fine motor skills is the ability for children (adults too) to use their hands and fingers in synchronization with their eyes; the use of small muscles and their coordination. Examples of fine motor skills are using the pincher grasp to hold a pencil and make a line, using scissors to make a cut in paper, using tweezers to pick up a pom pom, pouring water from a pitcher into a cup without (or with minimal) spillage, stacking one block on top of another. The list goes on and on, there is practice and exposure to fine motor activities in a lot of what we do at tumbleweed.

Over the course of a year I have witnessed a lot of fine motor development within Cohort 10 and even in the 6 months I have had with Cohort 12. Toddlers never cease to amaze me, maybe that is why toddlers have always been my favorite age group. When introduced to a new material, children go through a process of investigating said material, observing what peers are doing with the material, and testing theories. For this blog I am going to be using scissors as my example material; it is still a new material for some, but everyone has had a chance to investigate. During this process I witnessed children sitting quietly in a chair as they watched what other children were doing with the scissors. When they did pick up the scissors they were using both hands to open and close the handle, looking closely at the work they were doing with their hands and noticing that opening and closing the handles was also opening and closing of the blades. The opening and closing of the scissors is where a lot of children are at with this material, they have watched other children cut the paper available but have not shown interest in doing it themselves; they are still investigating their materials.

Practicing is a next step, whether it be a continuation of their investigation or a step all on its own. The children are finding a way that works for them to use the material and there is no wrong way. Regardless of whether the scissors cut paper they are still working their fine motor skills by coordinating their fingers to grasp the handles and their hands to open and close them. They use their practice time to fine tune their skills and continue to test their theories of what works and how they can do work with these scissors.
Mastery is a step some of the older kiddos are at. When they see scissors available they recall all of their experience with the material and remember the process (investigation, practice and execution). They have spent an adequate amount of time investigating and testing the material, and now they have learned how to hold the scissors with one hand and the paper with the other while they make a small cut. Often what I notice at this point is that they are not cutting all the way across the page, but making a slit to then ripe the paper or even cutting close to the corner or edge so a small piece comes off. It is their greatest accomplishment.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Working through gender biases

It’s been about a month since my time started here at the preschool and I can honestly say it’s quickly becoming a second home. I even received an “I love you,” today from one of the kiddos! It’s a wonderfully heartfelt and passionate group of kids and I feel as though they help me learn more about myself everyday. I wanted to take some time and highlight in this blog post my personal thoughts and feelings on the gender bias I’ve not only noticed in myself but often in the behaviors of the children at the school.

As I walked into the preschool to start off the day, I was greeted by the normal “Steve’s here!” I always smile at everyone and wish them all a good morning as I head to the kitchen to put my lunch in the fridge. I happened to be carrying a banana one morning and overheard one (male) child say, “Steve! Bananas are only for girls! Eww!” Now in the past, I would have let this comment brush over my shoulder, because obviously that comment isn’t true and he was probably just trying to be funny to his classmates. Unbeknownst to him, I had recently learned through a training with my AmeriCorps cohort, that racism and sexism is a systemic problem in the USA mainly because it goes about unchecked by friends, family, and those in role model positions. As an educator, I couldn’t let these comments slide anymore. I gently approached the child and very matter of factually stated, “I just wanted you to know, that bananas can be eaten by anybody, whether you’re a boy or a girl.” Unexpectedly, there was little reaction from the child, but it’s moments like these that we miss, or simply choose not to engage in, all too often. Moments like these build upon each other and taking 10 seconds to correct an out-of-place exclamation, comment, or joke can be vital in who these kids become as they mature into adulthood. One of my duties as an educator is to provide, establish, and reinforce building blocks for these children to lean on to become healthy functioning people in society. Of course, this one moment in itself probably won’t change the course of this child’s life, but it’s certainly a block they can use as they build their “life’s tower.”

It’s important to me to make sure every child feels empowered to fulfill their dreams and not feel limited to anything because of their gender. For example, I want girls to feel strong and boys to learn gentleness because a capable, resilient, and loving human knows how to be both strong and gentle at the correct times. When a child trips, falls, and begins to cry I always tell them to pick themselves up (unless it’s a serious injury, of course), because it instills an inner strength within them. Once they’re up, I always offer a hug and any comfort them may need, tell them, “You’re strong” and “You’re alright,” to reassure them, then send them about their way. Learning how to pick themselves up when they’re down is just as an invaluable skill as learning how to be gentle with words and actions. I enjoy working with the students by providing reminders of what gentle play looks like and also talking about how our words can also have an impact on our friends.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Mindfulness and Yoga: Moving, Relaxing, and Centering Ourselves

It all started with a nap mat and a little imagination.

Nap time can be a tricky time for preschool. There's so many transitions; from the lunch table, to the bathroom to setting up our mats it's no wonder there is some extra built up energy that needs to be released. Instead of letting the energy get the best of us, I decided to utilize the energy into a practice that can be used throughout the day; mindfulness.
To quote a great site that has some useful mindfulness steps for children, 

"The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognize their thoughts as 'just thoughts,' to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control."

Now to bring us back to nap time, our mats, and our imagination.

I asked them to close their eyes and imagine their mats were boats about to set sail for the open ocean to go on a fishing trip. They were hooked. Using common yoga poses, we were able to be engaged and centered as we caught starfish, whales, and fishes.

 B and D were whales, diving into the ocean and coming back up for air. The motion of bringing their head lower than their heart helped encourage a calm state, which in turn helped them to focus on the next ocean animal they were going to catch.

D spreads out on his mat like a starfish after squeezing his body up tight like a ball. It feels so good to release our bodies after a tense moment, such as squeezing all our muscles together.

At the end of our yoga adventure, I asked the children to place their hands over their hearts and listen. Some decided to participate and some did not, opting for a book instead. The ones who did place their hands on their hearts became still, quiet, and mindful of their heart beat, slowing down their breath and taking note of how it was slowing down. Even though it only lasted for a few seconds, it was truly a magical thing to witness them centering their thoughts and bodies.  That's when I decided to not only make this a nap time routine, but to find a way to implement it throughout the school day.

 Some of the best times we were able to use our new strategies were during group time. We would take deep breaths and see if we could be as quiet as possible. Then we'd ask if they could hear the running water from the sink or the cars passing outside, encouraging them to listen even closer.

We've also been keen in some heavy pushing and stretching right before nap time to help us get some of the energy out through the bottoms of our feet and hands as we pushed with all our might against the hard surface of the wall.

L and A show practice pushing up against the wall before nap time, helping to utilize the energy out their feet and hands which in turn helps relax their bodies more.

I found the more I actively practiced breathing and keeping calm, more times than not the children would perk up and want to participate with me. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The best part of it all is that it's being practiced consistently. Soon enough it will become a habit, and what a great habit to start having in our wonderful school.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sharing Meals, Sharing Stories, Sharing Ownership

At Tumbleweed, we all eat meals together - children and teachers. We discuss the food we’re eating: where it comes from, what it looks, tastes, and feels like, how it was prepared, how it makes us feel. We share stories about our families, funny things that we’ve experienced, or interesting facts we've learned. Sometimes we listen to soft music or a story on tape. Mealtime at Tumbleweed is a time of sharing nourishment, sharing stories, and sharing some special time together at the table.  It’s a time to slow down from the craziness of the day and do something completely in unison...after all, one thing about people is that we all have to eat!

Often, we also include the children in preparing snacks or lunch items. If you follow our Instagram, you've likely seen photo sets of children making popsicles, granola, and pizza. We do these projects during our “small group” time so that each child involved is sure to have chances to participate in hands-on ways. Preparing food for ourselves and others to enjoy is a source of pride; it feels so good to start with a bunch of separate ingredients and end up with something recognizable and delicious. And we always feel proud to say, “I made that!” while our friends are eating and enjoying their meals.

Preparing meals puts to use so many of the skills that preschoolers naturally crave to use and practice. When I lead “cooking” small groups, I try to include some sort of simple kitchen skills and give each child a chance to practice these skills individually, while we all observe and narrate the action. We’ll each be responsible for cutting up our bananas or strawberries, for example, for the popsicles being made on our own trays. Or spreading the sauce on our English muffins for pizza, or scooping a certain amount of spice or oats or honey for our granola. These are the sorts of skills the children love to practice in their daily play as well, so they come quite naturally.  This practice is how we develop hand-eye coordination and motor skills, and when presented in conjunction with preparing food, it also helps the children to visualize the processes involved in harvesting, preparing, or cooking the food they eat every day.

The first thing we do before we prepare food for our friends is to wash our hands very well, being sure to use lots of soap.  Giving reminders to do this each and every time we prepare food together also presents an opportunity to discuss bacteria, germs, the spreading of illnesses, and how careful handwashing can help protect ourselves and each other.  

Next, we each sit down at a tray prepared with particular ingredients and/or tools.  When making popsicles, each tray is set up with paper cups and popsicle sticks; when making granola, each tray holds one or two different ingredients.  Sometimes these are pre-measured, while other times they are simply laid out in their packaging and accompanied by measuring tools.  

Finally, we get to the exciting part: the making!  We discuss how important it is not to eat any of the food until after we’re completely finished making it, so that our germs do not get into the shared foods.  Then I give step-by-step instructions.  If making popsicles, I will hand out a few butter knives and guide children in cutting up their bananas or strawberries, allowing them to choose how large or small to cut them.  The pieces of fruit then go in the bottoms of the cups, which gives children a chance to practice portioning and to envision the finished product along the way. After we portion out each ingredient and pop our pizzas or granola in the oven or our popsicles in the freezer, working together to very carefully carry them over to the kitchen on tray, we get to munch on the ingredients that spilled onto the tablecloth or polish off any leftover bits! This eating part makes all the work worthwhile!

It is amazing to see the joy in cooking beginning so young.  Preparing meals together and then eating them together creates a conversation through activity - instead of passive consumers, the children are directly involved in the care and health of themselves and their bodies.  The sense of ownership they feel over what and how they choose to consume and the background knowledge of where their food comes from is setting the stage for a healthy, positive relationship with food down the road, which we all know is such an important thing to foster in the lives of our kiddos!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Baking Together

Baking is something I enjoy doing at home, and is something I also really like to bring into the classroom with me. Typically, there are three things to baking with toddlers: 
* Creating a fun experience! This is an opportunity to show the children something that I enjoy and allowing them to create their own ideas. 
* Preparation and Set up.  This is a great time for children to enter into the process of following a logical sequence of events to get to a predictable result.  It offers many opportunities for order (the gathering and arrangement of ingredients), language (verbal and written), and logical sequencing (following the recipe directions). 
* Inquiry Process.  Even set activities like this can allow for time for the children to wonder and engage in the process of inquiry.  Why do we use these ingredients?  What if I stir one way and someone else does another?  What could we add in next time to change the outcome?

As a child baking was a rare and exciting time that I could help my mom in the kitchen and make something sweet that I could then anticipate eating. While I was interested in scooping of ingredients and adding them to the bowl as a child, I noticed when we baked together the children were curious about how the vanilla smelled, what salt and sugar taste like and giggling about some eggshell sneaking into the mix. What is this? What’s that? Can I smell it? Yeah, me too! What does it taste like? So many questions about all of our ingredients. Identifying all of what makes a muffin and getting a chance to smell, taste or even just look closely at something that they haven’t had much experience with was great. Through mixing ingredients and talking about their roles in the recipe, smelling and sampling things when possible we are teaching them about food and how it’s made. This experience began as something I enjoyed and blossomed into a way to connect with each other and with food.

The first step to a successful baking project is being prepared. Making sure you have a recipe selected ahead of time and that you have all the ingredients before mentioning the idea to the group. Once you have collected all the ingredients we place everything together on the table for all to see. We pause for a moment before starting so that everyone can look over the table, answer questions and say what we are going to make one last time. As we open bags and cartons and twist off caps we talk about the names of each ingredient and even perhaps what part it plays in the recipe. Like with most things we follow their lead, taste, smell, and inspect what the littles are interested in- whether it be from the table and bag or as the item is added to the bowl.

Another important part of baking with children is having an allotted amount of time to give children for their own pace.We were curious about the process and it felt good to explore this process sensorally, they smelt and tasted what we could during the time given.  We all had a turn to mix both the wet and dry ingredients.  It was even exciting to pass to our friends!

With colder weather approaching I hope it incorporate more baking into our days. I wonder what our next recipe might be!